I was honoured to be asked to present yesterday on “Cloud Skills, Flexibility and Strategy” at the Westminster eForum Keynote Seminar: Next steps for cloud computing.
As explained on its website, Westminster Forum Projects enjoys substantial support and involvement from key policymakers within UK and devolved legislatures, governments and regulatory bodies and from stakeholders in professional bodies, businesses and their advisors, consumer organisations, local government representatives, and other interested groups. The forum is structured to facilitate the formulation of ‘best’ public policy by providing policymakers and implementers with a sense of the way different stakeholder perspectives interrelate with an aim is to provide policymakers with context for arriving at whatever decisions they see fit.
The abstract to the session asked about the extent to which Government departments embracing the cloud, what progress is being made in achieving the UK’s Data Capability Strategy on skills and infrastructure development, whether organisations are doing enough to address the emerging shortfall in skills and also asked about the contradiction between mobile device power and cloud.
I was part of a panel and the following was my five minute introduction.
In my five minutes I’d like to talk about the power of cloud and within that to address three areas raised in the abstract to this session – shared services and shared data; mobile; and skills.
We see cloud as being used in three different ways – optimisation, innovation and disruption. Most of what I’ve seen so far in cloud adoption is about optimisation or cost saving. How to use standardisation, automation, virtualisation and self service to do the same things cheaper and faster.
What’s more interesting is the new things that can be achieved with the innovation and disruption that this can provide.
I’ve been working with various groups – local authorities, police forces, and universities, discussing consolidating their data centres. Instead of each one managing their own IT environment, they can share it in a cloud. They justify this with the cost saving argument but the important thing is, firstly, that they can stop worrying about IT and focus on what their real role is, and secondly that by putting their data together in a shared environment they can achieve things that they’ve never done before.
For example, Ian Huntley would never have been hired as a caretaker and so the Soham murders would have been less likely to happen if the police force had access to the data that he was known by a different force.
And we wouldn’t have issues with burglars crossing the border between West and North Yorkshire to avoid detection if data was shared.
In Sunderland we predict £1.4m per year in cost savings by optimising their IT environment but what’s more important is that this has helped to create a shared environment for start up companies to get up and running quickly so it’s stimulating economic growth in the area.
Another example is Madeleine McCann. After her disappearance it was important to collect holiday photos from members of the public as quickly as possible. Creating a website for this before cloud would have taken far too long. Nowadays it can be spun up very quickly. This isn’t about cost saving and optimisation, it’s about achieving things that could never have been done before.
This brings me to the question in the abstract about mobile: “As device processing power increases, yet cloud solutions rely less and less on that power, is there a disconnect between hardware manufacturers and app and software developers”. I think this is missing the point. Cloud isn’t about shifting the processing power from one place to another, it’s about doing the right processing in the right place.
In IBM we talk about CAMS – the nexus of forces of Cloud, Analytics, Mobile and Social, and we split the IT into Systems of Record and Systems of Engagement. The Systems of Record are the traditional IT – the databases that we’re talking about moving from the legacy data centres to the cloud. And, as we’ve discussed, putting it into the cloud means that a lot of new analytics can happen here. With mobile and social we now have Systems of Engagement. The devices that interact with people and the world. The devices that, because of their fantastic processing power, can gather data that we’ve never had access to before. These devices mean that it’s really easy to take a photo of graffiti or a hole in the road and send it to the local council through FixMyStreet and have it fixed. It’s not just the processing power, it’s the instrumentation that this brings. We now have a GPS location so the council know exactly where the hole is. And of course this makes it a lot easier to send photos and even videos of Madeleine McCann to a photo analytics site.
We’re also working with Westminster council to optimise their parking. The instrumentation and communication from phones helps us do things we’ve never done before, but then we move onto the Internet of Things and putting connected sensors in parking spaces.
With connected cars we have even more instrumentation and possibilities. We have millions of cars with thermometers, rain detection, GPS and connectivity that can tell the Met Office exactly what the weather is with incredible granularity, as well as the more obvious solutions like traffic optimisation.
Moving on to talking about skills. IBM has an Academic Initiative where we give free software to universities, and work with them on the curriculum and even act as guest lecturers. With Imperial College we’re proving cloud based marketing analytics software as well as data sets and skills, so that they can focus on teaching the subject rather than worrying about the IT. With computer science in school curriculums changing to be more about programming skills we can offer cloud based development environments like IBM Bluemix. we’re working with the Oxford and Cambridge examination board on their modules for cloud, big data and security.
To be honest, it’s still hard. Universities are a competitive environment and they have to offer courses that students are interested in rather than ones that industry and the country need. IT is changing so fast that we can’t keep up. Lecturers will teach subjects that they’re comfortable with and students will apply for courses that they understand or that their parents are familiar with. A university recently offered a course on social media analytics, which you’d think would be quite trendy and attractive but they only had two attendees. It used to be that universities would teach theory and the ability to learn and then industry would hire them and give them the skills, but now things are moving so fast that industry doesn’t have the skills and is looking for the graduates to bring them.
Looking at the strategy of moving to the cloud, and the changing role of the IT department, we’re finding that by outsourcing the day to day running of the technology there is a change in skills needed. It’s less about hands on IT and more about architecture, governance, and managing relationships with third party providers. A lot of this is typically offered by the business faculty of a university, rather than the computing part. We need these groups to work closer together.
To a certain extent we’re addressing this with apprenticeships. IBM’s been running an apprenticeship scheme for the last four years This on the job training means that industry can give hands on training with the best blend of up to the minute technical, business and personal skills and this has been very effective, with IBM winning the Best Apprenticeship Scheme from Target National Recruitment Awards and National Apprenticeship Services and Everywoman in technology.
In summary, we need to be looking at the new things that can be achieved by moving to cloud and shared services; exploiting mobile and the internet of things; and training for the most appropriate skills in the most appropriate way.